Justice and inclusiveness was supported by ensuring culturally appropriate protocols that included the participation of Consortium partners and Elders “to diffuse the power relations inherent in the production and dissemination of knowledge” (Evans, McDonald, & Nyce, 2000, p. 2). Culturally appropriate methodology was also followed by including participation of a community Elder, who was involved in each of the focus groups to maintain cultural protocols. Finally, traditional knowledge was valued and respected through adherence to the Consortium’s Intellectual Property Protocol Agreement (Mixon, 2008b). Together, these planning considerations enhanced mutual trust and communication that supported mutually beneficial research goals and, ultimately, the success of Aboriginal higher learners at VCC. These strategies also supported the respect for vulnerable peoples through culturally appropriate methodology, intentional actions, and behaviours.
Free and Informed Consent
Respect for human dignity was expressed through maintaining the free and informed consent of Consortium partners and research participants for the focus groups. I ensured that the sessions were conducted in a culturally sensitive manner, respecting Elders, women, children, and the intellectual property of Aboriginal peoples. Interview participants were also afforded this same respect for human dignity through respectful communication throughout the research project and comprehensive informed consent forms that were reviewed prior to each interview and focus group (see Appendices C and F). This major project utilized the process as identified by Evans et al. (2000):
Participatory [research] methods [that] are based on the notion that not only the product but the process of research must benefit the community. They attempt to involve the community in all phases of the research process from: the conception of what is urgent; to how a problem is defined; to how it is researched; to the final product of the research; and to the use of these results. Such methods are intended to move the power inherent in the production of knowledge into the hands of the community. From this, a number of potential benefits result, not the least of which is an informed and empowered community. (p. 2)
Respect for Privacy and Confidentiality
Respect for privacy and confidentiality was achieved through ensuring that the access, control, and dissemination of personal information of research subjects was protected by securing all handwritten notes in a locked cabinet in my office and all data compiled are password and fingerprint protected on my laptop. To protect the identifiable personal information, the privacy and confidentiality of focus group and interview participants’ feedback has been presented in an anonymous format. In a preamble, informed consent was presented to focus group and interview participants through their consent forms (see Appendices C and F). This preamble was also read aloud at the outset of each focus group session and interview, where it has been recognized that “the easiest way to protect the confidentiality of respondents is simply never to obtain or record participants’ names in the first place” (Palys & Atchison, 2008, p. 92). All participants of the focus groups and interviews were anonymous, and all names were omitted in the transcription of the data, do not appear anywhere in the manuscript, and will not be referred to at any time in the future. By using anonymous feedback, the confidentiality of focus group and interview participants was protected. No modes of observation (e.g., photographs or videos) were used in the research, which might have allowed identification of focus group or interview subjects. The research did not include any secondary uses of identifiable data. I have also conformed to the requirements to protect privacy and confidentiality by securing Research Ethics Board approval from VCC and Royal Roads University, which included Tri-Council criteria (Interagency Advisory Panel on Research Ethics, 2009).
Conflict of Interest
Recognizing that “science was and is not culture-free”(Glesne, 2006, p. 9) and that all research contains researcher bias, I recognize that I also have a First Nations researcher bias, a bias as a consultant for the VCC AES Department, and a bias as student myself. Institutional bias wherein this work is being done for VCC, with benefits that may result in increased participation and graduation rates of Aboriginal learners was mitigated through the control and authority provided to the Consortium partners by the college, with the intent of maintaining public trust and institutional and personal conflict of interest. I also mitigated my own bias as a consultant for the VCC AES Department by providing the Consortium on-going, direct reporting and through the Consortium Manager of Operations. I accepted their recommendations, recognizing their authority in supporting their community members’ interests as Aboriginal learners. Finally, as a student, I mitigated this conflict by journaling to ensure that my interests as a student did not bias my research.
Balancing Harms and Benefits
The participatory research approach used with the Consortium partners supported the respect and authority of Aboriginal peoples. Controlling research information, as it applies to use, is one of the most important principles to this research. Balancing harms and benefits was undertaken by including an Elder in the focus groups and providing on-going reports to the Consortium, recognizing that most of the focus group participants are also Aboriginal community members. All known ethical considerations and cultural considerations have been methodically reviewed and analyzed to provide a framework that has ensured minimal risk for participants of this research and maximum benefit for partners involved.